Non-fiction/Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor, Penguin/Allen Lane, 449 pp; Rs799 (Hardback)
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 9, 2013
I recently read Shashi Tharoor’s Pax Indica: India and the World in the 21st Century. I wrote a review for the same, published on The Northeast Today website (and the upcoming print edition):
India, meet World; World, India!
In an increasingly globalised world, India has been particularly lax on international relations and foreign policy. This is in contradiction with the general atmosphere of tumult raised around discussion of policy and political issues in the country. And why shouldn’t it be so? After all, the man on the street does not care about Sino-Indian trade policies. The college student does not want to know if the MEA has started engaging with Tony Abbott’s administration. Why would a fisherman care about the country’s relationship with SAARC? Or a housewife about India’s strategic objectives in Africa?
Unless the man happens to be running a small business in Siliguri. Or the student is looking to pursue graduate school in Australia. Or the fisherman’s family lives in constant fear of accidentally entering someone else’s territorial waters and facing dire consequences. Even the housewife, juggling bills for fuel and food, is not left untouched by it all.
Shashi Tharoor’s most recent book, Pax Indica, explains why foreign policy matters for a country like India, and outlines how it could very well be a powerful instrument for her own domestic transformation. Beautifully written, Pax Indica is evocative of an engaging and exciting conversation which, while dotted with tongue-in-cheek anecdotes, misses neither the historical context nor the intricacies of the topic at hand.
In fact, it is important to point out the shades which the author has painted the work in. While Tharoor remains a celebrated scholar in the international relations space, this is not an academic work, but is instead meant to be read and understood by a plethora of readers, from the non-fiction aficionado high-schooler to the geopolitically-inclined. Another interesting amalgamation is that of Tharoor the former UN Under-Secretary General and Tharoor the MP for Thiruvananthapuram, both of whom can be seen and heard.
Pax Indica opens a window to the inner workings of the MEA and other domestic stakeholders in India’s dialogue with the rest of the world. The book also examines these links with different partners in some detail as well. The strategic approach taken by India, especially during the Nehruvian era, is showcased and reflected upon, and helps trace an outline of India’s identity and unique position in the world as a thought leader and as an emblem for self-righteousness and peaceful coexistence.
India’s unique challenges in grasping contemporary matters of flaunting soft power and public diplomacy are also discussed. It is extremely disconcerting for Tharoor as it is for the reader to see the persistence of infrastructural and logistical challenges plaguing India’s foreign policy, such as the understaffed diplomatic corps, the lack of structure, coordination, and personnel planning, and the absence of informed public debates, although the latter has seen some initiative in recent years.
Particularly noteworthy is the chapter on the complexities of living in ‘A Tough Neighbourhood’. India’s leviathan bulk and the sensitivity by which it is obliged to handle matters in the South Asian region make it the proverbial elephant in the room not only in terms of magnitude, but also due to the sheer awkwardness of conduct. Tharoor also laments the decline of the north-eastern states of India, which had a higher per capita income than most of the rest of the nation in 1947, but have since been “the stepchildren of India’s development,” cut-off from the heartland and suffering as a result of poor integration with Bangladesh.
The north-east comes up once again, as Tharoor demonstrates his central thesis that foreign policy, while focused outward, can bring much benefit to domestic populaces. The region can in fact, be thought of to be occupying prime real estate due to its significance not just for international relations but for commerce and tourism. Indeed, the north-east of India can act as a bridge for south Asian integration, linking two economically rich expanses of the continent. The wealth of the region in terms of biodiversity, cultural diversity, energy and mineral resources, and the human resource potential, is vast and waiting to be developed and tapped. India’s ‘Look East’ policy, can thus only be fully appreciated if the seven sisters states, each of whom has a long international border, are developed and revamped to avail of the economic consequences of our new-found kinship.
The book ends with a reminder of this nation’s sovereignty and independence of thought, and calls for realisation of a grand strategy involving a multi-aligned approach and playing a leadership role in shaping of the new world order. This leadership role is not about domination or superpower politics, but rather about a sense of responsibility in instilling global cooperation. A sense of peace that India can bring to the world. Pax Indica.
(Source: India, meet World; World, India!)
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